CHILL Making ice cream is a smooth move!

Jul 13th, 2007

“I scream you scream we all scream for ICE CREAM!” That childhood riddle (*) rings in my head when I think of summer and one of my favorite creative outlets, that of making ice cream.

About twenty five years ago I bought my first ice cream maker from William Sonoma, and quite a serious machine it was. As a chef it marked somewhat of a right of passage to own such an expensive tool. Interestingly, I used it only a few times at home, as it wasn’t large enough to use in the places I was working, and so it sat on the shelf looking impressive, without much action. In fact, it wasn’t until we opened EVOO, that I put some miles on it.

Now, it is so much a part of our daily routine that the dusty days of shelf-sitting is but a dim memory. I find making ice cream incredibly rewarding because the process can be so creative. Now mind you I am not a fan of the “iron chef” way of making every secret ingredient into ice cream. I draw the line on “trout ice cream.” But I do enjoy experimenting outside the box with herbs and spices and, of course, all sorts of fruit/veggie and nut/herb combinations. One constant favorite of mine is no surprise any longer, is coriander sour cream ice cream, which for me just transcends the average apple pie to greater heights and takes the chocolate flourless treats up several notches. (did I just say that, Emeril?).

For me making ice cream falls into the category of “what is so hard about that?” It is why I make my own pasta—it is so easy—I cannot think “why not?” Here’s all there is to making ice cream.

Start with basic custard: egg yolks, cream, and sugar (see recipes). Next, you need to decide on a flavoring—keep it simply vanilla or use your imagination. Right now I am thinking of Cherry Amaretto because cherries are in season. Throw in some dark chocolate pieces after churning and a new flavor is born. How about Chocolate Hazelnut with fresh raspberries folded in; and Vanilla bean folded with Cashew Brittle!

The secret to my ice cream is in the heating of the custard. After placing the egg yolks, cream and sugar into a medium saucepan, I whisk to combine and place over medium flame. Switching to a rubber spatula, I stir in figure eight motion, scrapping down the sides every other turn, until the mixture coats the spatula (or the back of a spoon). This might be a perfect time to for you to invest in a digital thermometer because taking it to the exact temperature of 185°F is needed, and “coating the spatula” isn’t an exact measurement. Once to temperature, I remove it from the heat and strain through a fine mesh into a large metal pan or bowl for cooling. I want to get the custard as cold as possible before churning; at least 40°F or lower. The cooler I take the base the shorter the churn time, which translates to a creamier ice cream.

I recommend you follow your machine manufacturer directions from here. Right after churning, the ice cream resembles soft serve—very nice but still not ice cream yet. You will want to place it into a container, plastic with tight lid is my choice, and freeze for at least 3-5 hours before serving. I usually place a piece of parchment paper on top of the soft ice cream before snapping on the tight lid. I think this helps keep the ice crystals away. And I do this with store purchased ice cream too—keeping the cardboard container in a plastic bag or wrapped in foil to extend its freshness.

What about other frozen treats? Gelato is an Italian favorite that is increasing in popularity in the US. In a gelato, the high butter fat of ice creams is displaced with more concentrated flavorings. Check out my Hazelnut Gelato, for example, and see how many hazelnuts are required to create the intense flavor of the finished gelato.

Sorbets differ from Sherbets (also lower butterfat-1-2%), in that they have no dairy and are fat free. They are essentially a frozen ice, usually fruit based that is churned into a smooth whole fresh fruit taste. My favorite is Strawberry Sorbet (see recipe) which I use on strawberry shortcake when fresh berries are out of season! I usually make sorbet from the frozen berries I processed during the peak of berry season. That way I almost always have a true berry flavor, even in the winter.

If you don’t have an ice cream machine, you can still make granites! These are frozen non-dairy mixtures made from sweetened fruits; you can stay savory too with a tarragon gewürztraminer or a tomato ice. To make, place the mixture in a freezer pan or ice cube tray. Instead of churning in a machine, you agitated with a fork, every 35-45 minutes while freezing, creating a slushy, coarser flavored “ice.” Check out the Tomato Horseradish Ice that I use on fresh shucked oysters or over a shrimp or crab cocktail.

There is no end to making up new ice creams, gelatos, sorbets and granites or granitas, (the Italian word for these icy combinations.)! I encourage everyone to give it a whirl, and especially if you own a not-frequently-used machine, just dust it off and get churning! Ciao, Bob